by Angela Hadjipateras
CAWN’s co-director, Angela Hadjipateras reports on one of our recent tour activities in London.
On Friday 8th November, I accompanied Patrizia to Queen’s Market in Newham. This street market, selling fruit, vegetables, clothes and other things, has a long history and is viewed by most local residents as an integral part of the local community. In 2006 Newham Council proposed a redevelopment of the existing market site which was to include a supermarket and luxury housing above a much smaller covered market.
In 2009, following a vigorous local campaign of opposition, Boris Johnson directed Newham Council to refuse planning permission to redevelop the market. We went there to meet Pauline, the leader of this campaign and Divanessa, another active campaign member, to hear more about it and to exchange stories and strategies between her and Patrizia, whose work includes supporting women market-sellers in Managua’s Central Market and other towns in Nicaragua.
When we arrived, Pauline met us at a cafe and answered our questions about the local campaign. She told us that a committee was formed and met regularly to discuss and plan their strategy. One of the first tasks was to warn the market sellers that the Council promises to relocate them and provide another market area should not be trusted. An important factor in the campaign’s success was the support of a local MP and a few other influential figures. Patrizia wanted to know how involved the women were in the campaign. She was surprised to hear that, few market sellers had been directly involved in the campaign and the majority of those involved were local residents, like Pauline, who shop at the market and did not want to see it disappear.
Pauline took us around the market and introduced us to some of the women stall holders. We heard from them that campaign meetings took place during business hours and many women could not leave their stalls. Patrizia told Pauline, that her organisation – MEC – in Nicaragua – targets women and in order to ensure their participation, meetings are held at a time and place that is convenient to them. She also pointed out that MEC provides training for women so they are aware of their legal rights and can put pressure on employers and local government to respect those rights.
Pauline said that an organisation, like MEC, providing advice and training would be extremely useful to them and other markets around London and elsewhere in the UK faced with the threat of closure in the face of big commercial developments. Both Pauline and Patrizia enjoyed this exchange of ideas and experiences and highlighted the similarities of struggles faced by women working in the informal trading sector across the globe. Before leaving the market, Patrizia went around the stalls and made a couple of purchases, including some attractive Bengali jewellery and a Salwar Kameez, much to the delight of the stallholders!